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The Bus began in 2002 after Smith abandoned a legal career (he graduated from Harvard Law School), bought some used school buses, and found that a lot of young people were eager to “get on the Bus” and work in legislative campaigns. Most were Democrats, and in a decade Smith built an impressive political machine that is still the heart of his support.
But Smith is more than The Bus, just as Hales is more than an ex-councilman. Both are thoughtful and in the Portland progressive mode. Smith raised more than $500,000 in the primary, Hales topped $640,000. With Brady’s $1.2 million, this was the most expensive mayoral primary in Portland history.
There is a difference, at least in approach, to the important Columbia River Crossing, the proposed new bridge across the Columbia connecting Portland and Vancouver, Wash. Smith has been a vocal opponent of the entire project as designed; Hales is critical but believes it can be worked out and built.
Beyond that, personality contrasts may decide the race in November. Smith is barely restrained energy, certainly not a “wild kid” but with the enthusiasm of youth; he is prone to popping off and more a man of ideas than execution. Hales is not really “an old dude,” but a mature candidate with both public and private experience and a record as someone who can get things done.
Smith clearly has momentum, and his gains in late campaigning came largely from Brady; he will need to pick up some of her votes and some of her financial support as many Portland business leaders and older Democrats place their chips on Hales.
Portland’s “weak mayor” system puts the office only slightly above that of the five city commissioners; nearly any major action requires commission approval and each commissioner runs a major bureau. Successful mayors have lobbying skills necessary to rally a majority Council vote.
Regardless of November’s outcome, Oregon is welcoming an interesting new face with Jefferson Smith, who many friends believe has his long-range sights set on higher office. Even if Hales, with his seven-point advantage Tuesday, wins in the fall, Smith will be around.
As if often the case, elections reward those who persevere. Remember Steve Novick, the 4-foot-9 activist who ran for the U.S. Senate in Oregon in 2008, losing a primary to now-Sen. Jeff Merkley, D-Ore.? Well, perhaps you don’t remember our profile of Novick, the guy whose TV commercial featured him opening a beer bottle with the metal hook that serves as his left hand.
Novick, a very bright man with a Harvard law degree and service in several public jobs, considered other races in the interim, but this year filed for a seat on the Portland City Council; Tuesday night he won more than 50 percent to move to the general election unopposed.
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